The 2022 FIFA World Cup is set to kick off in November in Qatar. As the first World Cup ever held in the Middle East, this tournament is breaking new ground in many ways. One thing that remains constant, however, is the battle among national teams for the coveted 32 spots in the final tournament.
Qualification for the World Cup is a long and arduous process spanning two years and involving over 200 national teams from across the globe. The South American region is widely regarded as one of the strongest in international football, producing many of the sport’s elite teams and players.
South American World Cup Qualification Process
World Cup qualification in South America is contested between 10 national teams over the course of 18 months. The qualifying tournament is organized into a round robin format, with each team playing every other team home and away. The top 4 teams in the standings will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the 5th place team will enter an intercontinental playoff against a nation from another region.
The South American World Cup Qualification standings as of November 2022 are:
As it stands, Brazil and Argentina have already secured qualification, while Ecuador and Uruguay hold the final two automatic spots with one matchday remaining. Peru currently occupy the intercontinental playoff place. However, any of Peru, Chile, Colombia or even Bolivia still have a mathematical chance of climbing into 5th position.
On the final matchday of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying on March 29, 2022, there are several key matches that will decide which South American teams punch their ticket to Qatar:
- Peru vs. Paraguay
- Ecuador vs. Argentina
- Venezuela vs. Colombia
- Chile vs. Uruguay
- Bolivia vs. Brazil
Peru face an absolute must-win match against lowly Paraguay if they are to have any chance of direct qualification. Ecuador hold the upper hand over Peru in the standings, so the onus is on Peru to better Ecuador’s result against 2nd place Argentina.
Chile also have an outside shot at jumping into 5th, but they would need to beat Uruguay and get help in the form of an Ecuador loss. Venezuela vs. Colombia and Bolivia vs. Brazil have no bearing on qualification, but pride and bragging rights will be on the line.
Projected Qualification Scenarios
Based on the dynamics involved in the final round of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, here are the most likely scenarios for how many South American teams will ultimately qualify for Qatar 2022:
Most Likely Scenario
4 direct qualifiers, 1 intercontinental playoff team
This would see Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay qualify directly, with Peru entering the intercontinental playoff against the 5th place team from Asia (likely Australia, UAE or Lebanon).
Peru should be considered slight favorites over Paraguay, but an unfavorable result could see Chile or Colombia overtake them for 5th. Ecuador will be hard pressed to get a result against Argentina, but their superior goal difference over Peru means a draw would almost certainly be enough. Uruguay hosts Chile in a tough match, but should do enough to hang on to 4th.
Best Case Scenario for South America
5 direct qualifiers
The best case would see Peru jump into direct qualification at the expense of Uruguay or Ecuador. This could happen if Peru beats Paraguay, and either Chile beats Uruguay or Argentina beats Ecuador. This would give South America a very impressive 5 direct qualifiers.
Worst Case Scenario for South America
4 direct qualifiers, 1 misses intercontinental playoff
The worst case would be if Peru lost to Paraguay, allowing Chile or Colombia to overtake them for 5th place. This could mean the likes of James Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez representing South America in the intercontinental playoff instead of stalwarts like Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero.
While 5 teams from South America qualifying directly would be a major boost for the region, having their playoff team upset would be considered a disappointment.
Predicting the Unpredictable
When it comes to World Cup qualification, the South American region has proven itself to be fiercely competitive from top to bottom. While Brazil and Argentina are virtual locks every cycle, the remaining spots are up for grabs.
With so much on the line on the final matchday, it is certain that there will be twists and turns before the dust settles. Underdog victories, last minute goals, and heartbreaking defeats often define World Cup qualifying in South America.
That being said, Brazil and Argentina are near certainties to qualify. Ecuador is best positioned to hold on to 3rd place, while Uruguay is favored for the 4th automatic spot. As long as Peru avoid an upset loss to Paraguay, they should claim the intercontinental playoff place.
But one thing is guaranteed in South American football – nothing can ever be taken for granted. The road to the World Cup promises to be dramatic right up until the final whistle.
Strength of South American Teams
South America has long been a leading force in international football. The region has produced 9 World Cup titles and some of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.
Brazil (5 titles) and Argentina (2 titles) are traditional powerhouses that can field world class talent in every position. Uruguay (2 titles), although a small nation, have also shown their quality by lifting the World Cup trophy twice.
In recent years, Colombia and Chile have emerged as consistent threats after decades in the doldrums. Meanwhile, Ecuador and Peru have proven difficult to beat, especially at their high altitude homes.
Even nations like Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela who struggle for consistency have shown the ability to upset the continent’s top teams on any given day.
This depth of competition within the region leads to battle hardened teams that often excel on the global stage. With Brazil and Argentina almost guaranteed to be in the mix, any other South American team that qualifies has the potential to make noise.
In terms of individual talent, South America is well represented among the world’s elite footballers. Lionel Messi (Argentina) and Neymar Jr (Brazil) are global superstars who carry their nations. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have been prolific goalscorers. Colombia boasts James Rodriguez, Chile has Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, while Peru relies on Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero.
In addition, young talents like Vinicius Jr (Brazil), Lautaro Martinez (Argentina) and Darwin Nunez (Uruguay) are emerging as stars for the future. The depth of player talent ensures South American teams are always capable of excelling on the biggest stage.
Style of Play
South American teams favor an attacking style of play, with quick passing, skillful dribbling and lethal finishing. Flair and creativity are encouraged from a young age. While European nations tend to prioritize physical conditioning and tactical discipline, South Americans focus more on technique and flair.
This sometimes comes at the expense of defending, with backlines often the weak point of South American sides. But more pragmatic coaches have brought greater balance between attack and defense in recent years.
No matter the approach, South American nations always aim to control possession, create chances and score goals. Fans expect entertaining, free flowing football which feeds into the attitude of the players.
Challenges at the World Cup
Despite boasting 9 World Cup titles between them, South American teams face increasing challenges on the global stage. The balance of power has shifted as European nations like Germany, Spain, France and Belgium have developed into continental powers.
The main obstacles for South American teams at recent World Cups:
- Declining success in Europe – With most top South Americans playing club football in Europe, they are less dominant in leagues like the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga than in previous eras.
- Tactical innovation – European coaching has become more sophisticated. Teams are tactically flexible and place greater emphasis on physical conditioning.
- Globalized talent – Europe and other regions have benefited from increased migration and development programs producing talented multicultural squads.
- Sports science – European teams utilize sports science, nutrition, psychology and data analysis to maximize player performance better than their South American counterparts.
In essence, the rest of the world has caught up in terms of talent, tactics and professionalism. While South American culture still produces uniquely skillful players, they no longer arrive as finished products at the World Cup.
Hope for the Future
However, there are positive signs that South American teams are adapting to the modern game. Argentina and Colombia have implemented high pressing, dynamic systems that previously were uncommon in the region. Uruguay and Chile have developed sturdier defenses to complement their attacking threats.
The next generation of players like Vinicius Jr, Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul are more complete all-around footballers. And the region is placing greater emphasis on sports science and analytics to maximize physical and mental preparation.
Above all, that South American flair and passion remains undimmed. While the path is getting tougher, the region’s top teams and players have enough quality to overcome the challenges and thrive on the biggest stage.
With South American teams likely filling 4 or 5 spots at the World Cup, they could once again have a major impact on the tournament. The x-factor for these teams often comes down to the form of their star players.
Lionel Messi (Argentina) will be playing at his 5th and likely final World Cup. One of the greatest to ever play the game, he will be hungry to complete his legacy by lifting the trophy. If Messi is at his peak, Argentina should be considered top contenders.
For Brazil, Neymar Jr holds the hopes of a soccer-mad nation on his shoulders. Now 30 years old, the world’s most expensive player needs a defining World Cup performance to cement his status among the all-time greats.
Uruguay’s veteran forwards Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani remain lethal, but can they guide a new generation of talent to success? Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru will also be looking to their biggest stars to spark magic.
The bottom line is that South America almost always has multiple teams capable of making a deep run at the World Cup. With an array of world class talents and the confidence that comes with a legacy of success, South American teams should be feared once again when the tournament kicks off in Qatar.
Given the overall strength and qualifying form of the South American region, my prediction is:
Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Peru (Intercontinental Playoff) will represent South America at the 2022 World Cup.
The top teams Brazil and Argentina are near locks, while Ecuador appear best positioned to hold onto 3rd place. 4th place is tougher to call, but I believe Uruguay’s talent and experience will power them through. Peru should do enough to claim the playoff spot.
This would continue South America’s strong World Cup pedigree, with 4 direct qualifiers and 1 in the intercontinental playoff. The region boasts an outstanding collection of talent that could propel them to a World Cup title for the first time since 2002.
It will not be easy, as the European powerhouses lurk as dangerous opponents. But with players like Neymar, Messi and Suarez leading the way, anything is possible.
South America’s World Cup history shows they can never be counted out. I predict they will once again be among the top contenders vying for glory when the tournament kicks off in November.